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Longtime Ivy Prep supporter: Closing charter high school is an 'educational travesty'

A parent of two and a longtime education advocate, Jennifer Falk has been a vocal supporter of Ivy Preparatory Academy. However, she is dismayed at the way the charter school network decided to close its high schools. She is also concerned about what she considers a lack of transparency in the process and whether it violated state Sunshine laws.

In this piece, she explains her concerns: (You can read Ivy Prep's statement on the closing -- which impacts 90 students at two high school campuses --- here.)

By Jennifer Falk

I’ve been an Ivy Prep supporter since day one. But no more. At least not with the current governing board and leadership in place.

I have watched Ivy Prep weather many storms, some nearly fatal. But none of those wounds were self-inflicted by the adults entrusted in governing the school.

Parents of high school students at Ivy Prep were blindsided last week by an abrupt announcement from the Ivy Prep Governing Board that their schools were closing.

I was certainly not prepared for what I would learn as I attended an information session to understand why they were closing their high school less than a few months after their inaugural graduation. A graduation in which each of the 10 scholars enrolled in college supported by $150,000 in total scholarships.

 What I unearthed during this session and over the next few days can only be described as an educational travesty.

The first step in this strategically well-thought out plan led school officials to pull students out of class and tell them that they had to find another school to attend in 30 days. In an email that went home later that day, parents were informed of the closure and told that a parent meeting would be held to explain why it was in the best interest to dismantle the high school program mid-semester.

Concerned parents went to the school to demand answers but what they got instead were withdrawal papers. Teachers were directed to stop teaching for fear that the girls may want to remain in Ivy classrooms until the bitter end of October. Subsequent parent meetings between parent and school officials ended in screaming school leaders and crying parents.

A First Amendment award-winning citizen journalist was denied the opportunity to film this dysfunction.

But here’s the scary part.

Earlier in the week the Ivy Prep board voted on a recommendation brought forward by the organization’s new executive director, former state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan. This board vote was cast in a meeting without a posted agenda, and the vote to close the Ivy Prep high school in Gwinnett was done virtually and far out of the public eye.

Parents who complained to the state Charter Schools Commission were not given much hope, and told the Ivy Prep board was within its rights. The only answer parents have received so far is that school leaders were within their rights to engineer conditions and student data to support their decision to close high school because the new leader couldn’t “figure out” how to work through the challenges.

And the charter school board was within their rights to make decisions in the dark about how to use tax dollars and cheat kids out of their education. This material change to the current charter must be approved by the state commission, which had already given Ivy Prep leadership a wink and a nod to begin the shutdown.

The state Charter Schools Commission meets at the end of the month, and will vote on the charter amendment at that time.  Unfortunately, most of the high school students will be gone by the time the vote comes.

The Ivy Prep high school is hemorrhaging students every day because that’s the desired outcome. The focus of the school leadership is to amend the charter contract so the Ivy leaders can lower the bar and not be required to meet the rigorous demands set forth during their negotiations.

Tell me, do you think school leaders would be pushing students out if they had an inkling that the state commission was going to require them to live up to the existing contract?

Sounds like business as usual to me, not education reform.

Here’s something for the State Charter Schools Commission to consider. Don’t amend the charter. You’d be wiser to send the community a strong message: Tell the students they have a choice – they can return to Ivy Prep if they wish. Tell the school leadership they have a choice -- resign or to find the talent to meet the demands of the charter contract agreement.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.